March 20: To Sell the Poor

For three transgressions of Israel,
   and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
   and the needy for a pair of sandals —
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
   and push the afflicted out of the way.
Amos 2:6-7a

Amos was just a shepherd caring for his flocks in the north of Israel until he felt the Word of God press upon him and demand that he speak up. He is likely one of the first writing prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. And his message is identical to Isaiah and Jeremiah — worship without justice is unacceptable to God.

In the first chapter of his book, he lists the sins of Israel’s neighbors, but in chapter two, he turns his attention toward Israel and Judah. Their greatest transgression concerns their mistreatment of the poor.

Mention of selling the righteous and needy reminds Americans of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, but one does not need to go nearly that far back in history to find examples of the rich selling out the poor for their own personal gain.

In fact, that’s precisely what is happening now in Washington, D.C. In two pieces of pending legislation, the poor are about to be “pushed out of the way.” 

First, in the proposed healthcare bill, potentially 24 million people could lose their health insurance over the next ten years. In addition, premiums would rise dramatically among older Americans, particularly those closer to the poverty line. Younger and wealthier Americans would likely see their premiums decrease.

Furthermore, the biggest beneficiaries of the new healthcare bill are likely to be … the wealthy! The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reports that people making $200,000 to $999,999 per year will receive a $274 billion tax break over the coming decade, and another $157 billion will be saved by those earning $1 million or more.

Doesn’t this sound like “trampling the head of the poor into the dust of the earth”?

The second piece of legislation is the proposed federal budget, which notoriously slashes almost everything except military spending and the border wall. 

The remaining departments are gutted to pay for the dramatic increase in security, including completely eliminating at least 62 programs altogether, including the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, The Weatherization Assistance Program, The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and community development block grants, which help to fund Meals on Wheels. Notice anything about these programs? Yes, they benefit the poor.

The proposed budget is built on the backs of the needy and disadvantaged in America; the increased funding of the military is literally being done at the expense of the poor. 

The budget of a nation is not simply a political matter; it’s a moral declaration. A budget illuminates a country’s principles and values. It sheds light on what we believe is most important.

Unfortunately, if these two pieces of legislation stand as offered, they would evoke the condemnation of a shepherd prophet like Amos.

Prayer: God, make me aware of the existence of the poor and needy, for I am prone to shielding my eyes from uncomfortable truths. Help me understand that poverty is a problem in the United States. Make me a part of the solution. Amen.

Justice Challenge: This is a day to express your displeasure at the healthcare bill and proposed budget to your own congressional representative and senators. Call, write, or tweet to remind Congress that the poor must be remembered and protected in all legislation.